Bee Hive

Description

Bart’s Ice Cream’s current location was, in 1860, the “Bee Hive” tenement house. Tenement housing is the 19th-century term for a dedicated rental property. Constructed from a wing of the defunct Mount Pleasant Classical Institute, the Bee Hive housed lower-income families and African Americans during the Civil War. In 1860 it was reported that “Messrs. Cook and Conkey” procured a “property known as the Bee Hive” with the “intention of making improvements - for which there is a large margin.”

A number of small events concerning the Bee Hive were reported during the war years. In January of 1863 the “quiet of our village was disturbed” by a fire from “that elegant structure known as the Bee Hive.” The fire was extinguished with the “vigorous application of water” and no loss of life or property was reported. However, the reports continuously sarcastic tone towards the Bee Hive, indicate that its presence was not all that welcome in town.

In 1864 a more serious event occurred at the Bee Hive as “one case of Small Pox made its appearance.” The smallpox scare was curiously reported. A resident of the “Hive” was “in the camp at Readville for the past fortnight, arrived in town on Saturday eve, and on Sunday it was discovered that she was too ‘a victim.’ She must have known that she had been exposed and never should have been allowed to return.” “The Selectman have fitted up a barn, owned by A.P. Howe, between Amherst and Hadley as a Hospital, and on Sunday night the whole ‘swarm’ was moved there. The ‘Hive is at present unoccupied, an occurrence unknown for many years.” The reporters disdain for the Bee Hive, its residents, and the potential for smallpox to spread was shared enough in town that “an attempt was made to fire the ‘Bee Hive,’” however, the fire “was discovered in season, and extinguished.”

As the denigrating tone taken towards the “Bee Hive” suggests, and the attempted arson perpetrated there confirms, black residents of Amherst were not seen as social equals by the local white populace at large. Whatever their feelings on slavery as an institution, it was rare for even northerners to think of blacks as equals. In education, for example, the black community did not enjoy the opportunities available to white residents. Only in May of 1864 did the Amherst Academy open its doors to black citizens seeking an education. Even still, black students were welcome only in special evening classes. School committees offered favorable evaluations of educational progress in Amherst and urged parents to support their children’s education on several occasions during the war. Clearly, however, the bulk of their attention remained directed toward the white community while only half-heartedly addressing the needs of black citizens, as the Amherst Academy example demonstrates.

By 1865, on the same day it was reported that “foxes are killing poultry in Connecticut” and the Lincoln assassination conspirators were hanged in Washington D.C., Cook and Conkey sold the Bee Hive to Mr. Hitchcock. The contract stipulated that the Bee Hive was “to be demolished within two weeks.” HFE 7/14/1865 Within two weeks the “old ‘Bee Hive’ yielded to pressure of circumstances” and “came down. Only a pile debris marks the spot where once it proudly reared its walls. The melodious sounds which oftimes filled the midnight air no longer hover over it and busy feet no longer tread the massy dancy through its spacious halls. All is peace and quietness.” The “Bee Hive’s” place in Amherst during the Civil War appears contentious. Perhaps it was unacknowledged racial tensions against the Bee Hive’s African-American tenants, or certain level of class snobbery against the “swarm” of lower income residents in town that made some residents uncomfortable with the tenement building. Whatever the underlying cause, a tenant’s arrival with smallpox in 1864 made the Bee Hive’s presence in Amherst untenable and resulted in its destruction.

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“Bee Hive,” Amherst Historic, accessed July 17, 2018, http://amhersthistoric.org/items/show/18.
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